Dear Sir,Of what use are the Italics in the Bible? And if, as I understand, they are additions by the translators, can they be considered a part of God's inspired testimony?
Yours sincerely, R. G.
Dear Sir,Since the new translation of the bible has been talked of, there has been much written on the subject. It has been taken up in almost every newspaper; and some are clamorous for a new version. I wish for your opinion on the subject, knowing that you have had as good an education as most men, and have read the bible in different languages. Seeing such statements circulating throughout the kingdom, and thinking it might do much mischief, I feel induced to write to you. If you think it would not be a proper subject for the "Gospel Standard," I would not for one moment wish you to notice it; but, if otherwise, I should feel thankful to see a few words from you.
Yours affectionately, for the gospel's sake, Observer.
The intention of the italics, as the sloping characters are usually termed, in our version of the Scriptures, is often misunderstood. Their introduction by our translators into the Bible, is not an arbitrary or blameable addition, but was, in most instances, a matter of absolute necessity. Their object, we need hardly remind the greater part of our readers, is to show the omission of certain words in the original, which, in our language, require to be supplied. But it may be asked, "What is the reason of these omissions in the original, and is it right that they should be thus supplied? Is there not a great hazard of introducing thereby uninspired, and, therefore, unauthorised words into the sacred record of God?" To understand properly this question, we must examine into the nature of these omissions, and why they ought, or at least may be supplied, without any such dangerous or justly dreaded consequences.
Language being spoken before it was written, and the human mind naturally hurrying forward to express its desires and emotions, the consequence is, that certain words become, by practice and common consent, usually omitted, which may be easily supplied if necessary. Of this common circumstance all languages supply abundant examples. Thus, for instance- our own language frequently omits the relative pronoun, "who, which," as in the following sentence: "This is not the man I saw yesterday;" where there is the omission, or what grammarians call the "ellipsis" of the relative pronoun "whom." Now, if this sentence had to be translated into Greek, Latin, or French, (we omit Hebrew, because in that language the same ellipsis is customary,) the relative "whom" could not be left out, because the laws of those languages would not allow its omission. We do not feel, and perhaps scarcely notice the missing relative, because we are so used to its being dropped, but most other languages would be ungrammatical without it. In ordinary translation, no notice would be taken of this customary English ellipsis; but, if scrupulous accuracy were required, the translator, in order to show its omission in the original sentence, might put the word into italics.
This, then, is the whole history and mystery of these italics in the Bible, by which some are so puzzled, that they point out the omission of words in the original languages which cannot be omitted in our own, because the idiom of the two tongues is, in this point, different. We are not, therefore, at liberty to reject the words in italics, where they are obviously required to make sense, as by so doing we should absolutely spoil innumerable passages. Let us take an instance or two where to omit them would spoil the sense altogether. Read John xi. 1, without the italics: "Now a certain was sick, Lazarus." ".Man," and "named," are supplied in italics. The Greek, having a masculine adjective, which we have not, does not require "man," but we do; "named" is not absolutely necessary, but is supplied to prevent baldness and obscurity. Again, verse 39, "For he hath been four days," where "dead" is in italics. This is not expressed, but it is implied in the original, and therefore could not be omitted in our translation.
Of course, it requires a thorough knowledge of the language to be able in all cases to supply properly the omitted word; and in the Old Testament (the Hebrew being a most elliptical language, much more so than the Greek,) there may be room for examination how far the ellipses are correctly supplied. We were reading the other day a very good sermon, in which an objection was taken to the italics, 1 Cor. xv. 45, and the preacher contended that it should be read "the last Adam a quickening spirit." Now, if the good man had known anything of the original, he would have seen that the very laws of the language necessarily required those words to be supplied; and had he seen into the true meaning of the passage, he would have found the present translation sound divinity as well as good grammar, for "the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit" by divine appointment when he was constituted Head of his Church. In fact, after much and careful perusal of the Scriptures, especially those of the New Testament, we can hardly find an instance in which the italics could be omitted without impairing the force and beauty of the translation. And we cannot but admire the great faithfulness of our translators in so scrupulously adhering to the exact words of the Holy Ghost, and when they were necessarily compelled to supply the ellipses in the original, to point out that they had done so by marking the word in italic characters. By So doing, they engaged themselves, as by a bond, to give the word of God in its strict original purity; and yet, as thorough scholars in the original tongues, and complete masters of their own, they were enabled to give us a version admirable not only for its strict fidelity, but also for its eloquence, grandeur, and beauty.
We have thrown together our answer to both the preceding Inquiries, as affording us not only an opportunity to explain the meaning of italics in the Bible, but also to express our opinion upon a question of late much agitated, viz., whether it would be desirable to have a new, or at least a revised translation of the Scriptures. We deprecate any alteration as a measure that for the smallest sprinkling of good would deluge us with a flood of evil. The following are our reasons:
1. Who are to undertake it? Into whose hands would the revision fall? What an opportunity for the enemies of truth to give us a mutilated false Bible! Of course, they must be learned men, great critics, scholars, and divines. But these are notoriously either Puseyites or Neologians; in other words, deeply tainted with either popery or infidelity. Where are there learned men sound in the truth, not to say alive unto God, who possess the necessary qualifications for so important a work? And can erroneous men, men dead in trespasses and sins, carnal, worldly, ungodly persons, spiritually translate a book written by the blessed Spirit? We have not the slightest ground for hope that they would be godly men, such as we have reason to believe translated the Scriptures into our present version.
2. Again, it would unsettle the minds of thousands, as to which was the word of God, the old translation or the new. What a door it would open for the workings of infidelity, or the temptations of Satan! What a gloom too it would cast over the minds of many of God's saints, to have those passages which had been applied to their souls translated in a different way, and how it would seem to shake all their experience of the power and preciousness of God's word!
3. But besides this, there would be two bibles spread through the land, the old and the new, and what confusion would this create in almost every place! At present, all sects and denominations agree in acknowledging our present version as the standard of appeal. Nothing settles disputes so soon as when the contending parties have confidence in the same umpire and are willing to abide by his decision. But this judge of all dispute, this umpire of all controversy, would cease to be the looser of strife if present acknowledged authority were put an end to by a rival.
4. Again, if the revision and re-translation were once to begin, where would it end? It is good to let well alone, as it is easier to mar than mend. The Socianising Neologian would blot out " God" in 1 Timothy iii. 16, and strike out 1 John v. 7, 8, as an interpolation. The Puseyite would mend it to suit Tractarian views. He would read "priest" where we now read "elder," and put "penance" in the place of "repentance." Once set up a notice, "The old Bible to be mended," and there would be plenty of workmen, who, trying to mend the cover, would pull the pages to pieces. The Arminian would soften down the words "election" and "predestination" into some term less displeasing to Pharisaic ears. "Righteousness" would be turned into "justice," and "reprobate" into "undisceming." All our good Bible terms would be so mutilated that they would cease to convey the Spirit's meaning, and instead of the noble simplicity, faithfulness, and truth of our present version, we should have a bible that nobody would accept as the word of God, to which none could safely appeal, and on which none implicitly rely.
5. Instead of our good old Saxon Bible, simple and solid, with few words really absolete, and alike majestic and beautiful, we should have a modern English translation in pert and flippant language of the day. Besides its authority as the word of God, our present version is the great English Classicgenerally accepted as the standard of the English language. The great classics of a language cannot be modernised. What an outcry there would be against modernising Shakspere, or making Hooker, Bacon, or Milton, talk the English of the newspapers or of the House of Commons.
6. The present English Bible has been blessed to thousands of the saints of God; and not only so, it has become part of our national inheritance which we have received unimpaired from our fathers, and are bound to hand down unimpaired to our children. It is, we believe, the grand bulwark of Protestantism; the safeguard of the Gospel, and the treasure of the Church; and we should be traitors in every sense of the word if we consented to give it up to be rifled by the sacrilegious hands of Puseyites, concealed Papists, German Neologians, infidel divines, Arminians, Socinians, and the whole tribe of enemies of God and godliness.
Copied from The Gospel Standard, Vol. XXIII, 1857, pp. 121-123
THE HOLY BIBLE, Printed in 1611
Seeing its readings proves to cynics that the KJV's text has never been "revised" and is identical to that used today
(except for the rare 1611 typographical slips which were shortly thereafter fixed by King James translators themselves).
THE HOLY BIBLE, Printed in 1637
THE HOLY BIBLE, Printed in 1772
THE HOLY BIBLE, Printed in 1787
THE HOLY BIBLE, Printed in 1829
THE HOLY BIBLE, Printed in 1872
THE HOLY BIBLE, Printed in 1903
THE HOLY BIBLE, Printed in 2004
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